Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, also known as AIDS, is caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which results in permanent damage to the immune system. Most patients die from infections or malignancies associated with the progressive failure of the immune system. It is a fairly new disease, in which many people encounter daily, but do not know what to do to avoid it. AIDS may not be curable, but it is preventable, and educating people about what causes the AIDS virus is the first step.
In 1976, somewhere deep in the jungles of Central Africa, a young European doctor was infected with AIDS. At the time the virus was unheard of, so no one knew of any way to treat her. Shortly after realizing she was sick, she died. In Africa, the disease spread like a wildfire. It is a highly contagious disease that travels by bodily fluids. In the early 1980’s, certain door-to-door salesmen would go around selling vaccines that were supposed to treat pain. In most cases they were injecting nothing more than water, but the problem was that they used the same needle over and over again. This began the epidemic, which led to over 40% of all adults in Africa being infected with the AIDS virus.
One of the main ways that AIDS is spread is by direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids. This cause mainly pertains to intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs, and those who receive blood products, such as blood transfusions. In Africa, people often obtain AIDS because many of their health centers do not observe sanitary precautions. It is crucial that people use new or properly sterilized needles for each injection. In many places in the United States, people have access to free needles to avoid this problem, but in Africa they do not have these resources.
Another way the AIDS virus is spread is by people participating in unprotected sex. There are many ways to avoid this risk. Remain abstinent or delay sexual activity, especially for youth; be faithful, especially for those in committed relationships; use a condom, for those who choose to engage in sexual relations. Although in most cases we make a conscious choice to use cautious behavior, close to 30% of women report that their first sexual experience was forced on them, making sexual violence, or rape, a key factor of HIV/AIDS.
Lastly, more and more each day, children are being born into the world with AIDS. This means one of his or her parents was infected with the virus. It has been reported that over 70% of the time the disease is passed on from the mother to the baby. In America, many couples will receive genetic counseling and choose not to have children. In Africa, the women do not have access to any form of birth control, and often do not realize they will pass their disease onto their baby. Something that has become very popular is the AZT treatment given to pregnant mothers infected with AIDS. This treatment delays the AIDS virus from being passed onto their children. It is not always effective, but it is certainly worth a shot. Unfortunately, in Africa very few families are able to receive this treatment.
As hopeless as this may seem, there are things that we can do here to make a difference. It is important that we wake up and realize what is going on in the world around us. Although we can’t cure AIDS, we can treat it. If the people in Africa had the resources to treat and educate themselves, maybe the virus would stop spreading so rapidly. I am working with Compassion International to sponsor a child in Burkina Faso, Africa, which is an AIDS infected area. I make what is a very small sacrifice for me each month, but it is able to help provide treatment for children in that area. It may seem that as only one person, you cannot make much of a difference in the world, but you may be able to make a difference in one person’s life. Isn’t that worth it?